Perth lawyer’s harrowing account from drug addiction to salvation

Richard and Bex Steenhof. Picture: Shalom House Facebook
Richard and Bex Steenhof. Picture: Shalom House Facebook

IT was during a business trip to London that successful lawyer Richard Steenhof (34) discovered cocaine.

The Perth father-of-three was instantly hooked.

From that day forward all of Mr Steenhof’s trips away included drugs – coke, ecstasy, LSD and other designer drugs.

Mr Steenhof’s drug and alcohol abuse continued to spiral out of control until he collapsed in the street near his family’s law firm in Success.

But now the 34-year-old has faced his demons and is getting his life back on track after seven months at the faith-based Shalom House rehabilitation centre in the Swan Valley.

“In this environment I’ve been able to make some life-changing decisions,” Mr Steenhof said.

“Shalom’s mentors have also helped me realise how selfish and self-focused I was.

“It’s an uncomfortable and confronting realisation, but Jesus has taken away all the shame and condemnation that enslaved me for so many years.

“I cannot describe in words how beautiful this freedom feels.

“It reduces me to grateful tears and a better more lasting peace than any substance on this earth could provide.”

Richard Steenhof , third from left and wearing a wooden cross, with a work team from Shalom House. Picture: Shalom House Facebook

Mr Steenhof’s life-changing story is taken from his first-person testimony on Shalom’s Facebook page in January and from an interview on Sonshine FM with him and his wife, Bex, that aired last week.

In his testimonial, Mr Steenhof, one of six boys born into a devout Christian family in New Zealand, revealed his “double life” began when he was just a child.

“At the age of eight I was already highly skilled at living a double life, appearing like a good church boy in public but smoking cigarettes on the sly,” he said.

“Two of my brothers got hard into drugs around this time and at 11 I smoked my first joint.

“My brothers would give me alcohol to keep me quiet about their drug use, so by 15 I was a seasoned drinker.

“I had a fake ID and would often get into pubs and clubs.

“I partied a lot, meanwhile keeping up excellent academic, sporting performance and being heavily involved with church.”

Richard Steenhof, right, in August 2018 at work with his brothers Simon, left, and John. Picture: Steenhof Brothers Barristers & Solicitors Facebook page

MARRYING THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE

At 22, Mr Steenhof married Bex, the love of his life, and started a new life in Perth.

“Early married years were fun, being in love and partying with friends,” he said.

“I had carried my heavy teenage drinking habits into married life and when the girls came along I didn’t slow down.

“I didn’t think I had to – I was a top 10 per cent graduate of a top law school, enjoying a successful career at a world class corporate law firm. I felt entitled to let my hair down every now and again.

“I was largely blind to my wife becoming increasingly anxious at how often she would have to scrape me comatose off the couch so that the girls wouldn’t see their father passed out, drink in hand.”

DEPRESSION DIAGNOSIS

In 2013 Mr Steenhof suffered his third diagnosis of clinical depression.

“I contemplated suicide. I kept this quiet because I knew people were counting on me,” he said.

“I bounced back the following year and my wife and I decided to move to Singapore, where I was offered a job at another leading international firm.

“Singapore was an amazing experience. We travelled Asia and the globe as a family.

“However, I again slumped into depression and it was a tough, highly medicated journey to get out of it.

“During this time, I learned about the recreational values of benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium.

“I discovered cocaine on a business trip in London and was an instant fan from that point, all business trips included drug usage – mainly cocaine, but also ecstasy, LSD, opioids and other designer drugs.

“I was doing well at work and wanted an edge, so I experimented with Adderall [used to treat ADHD] and micro-dosing psychedelics to cope with the long hours and stress.”

Mr Steenhof said his life continued to spiral out of control.

“It culminated where my wife had to see me passed out on the sidewalk five metres from my office building, soaked in my own body fluids and being treated by paramedics,” he said.

“They wanted to take me to hospital but Bex was too scared because the penalties in Singapore are very severe for drug use and she knew this was more than alcohol.”

Keen for a fresh start, the couple moved to Perth last year, but after only three weeks of working for the family law firm, his brothers found him unconscious after overdosing on benzos and opiates.

HELP SOUGHT AT SHALOM HOUSE

Incapable of helping himself, Mr Steenhof sought help at Shalom House.

“I knew it was Australia’s strictest rehab and I made the counter-intuitive decision to apply precisely for this reason,” he said.

He said Shalom took a no-nonsense, cold turkey approach to rehabilitation.

“If you’re expecting to wander in and swan around smoking cigarettes and getting transferred from illegal drugs to legal drugs like Xanax and Valium you can forget about it,” he said.

“It’s a working rehabilitation so you’re not going to be sitting around navel-gazing; you’re going to be doing some good, hard, honest, productive work.”

IN HIS WIFE’S WORDS

In the radio interview last week, Mrs Steenhof, who is a nurse, said she had covered up her husband’s problems.

“I was really naive and prideful at the start where I didn’t want to admit my marriage was not what it appeared to be and it was actually a big lie,” she said.

“I was brought up a Christian. Separation and divorce are just things you don’t talk about, so I hid a lot of what happened from family and friends.

“My Instagram looked beautiful with lovely photos and I tried to support Rich as best I could, but in hindsight I think I enabled a lot of his behaviour.”

She said it was incredibly difficult to have no contact with her husband for the first three months of his rehabilitation.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.

“I was left to pick up all the pieces that were broken while he went off.

“I had my three girls and rent and school fees to pay.

“I was very scared.”

Even though the future remained uncertain, Mrs Steenhof said she had faith her husband would “lead” her family through what he has learnt at Shalom.

“At the start it was obviously heartbreaking for all of us, but in seven short months just to see such an amazing change in him through the people at Shalom but ultimately God’s changed his life,” she said.

Shalom House didn’t respond to Community News requests for an interview with Mr Steenhof.

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